No green light for Gaza invasion despite rocket barrage on Negev

Hours after the security cabinet ruled against a large military operation in the Gaza Strip, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi said Wednesday that it was impossible to defeat a terrorist group without having control on the ground. During the day, more than 20 Kassam rockets were fired into the western Negev, pounding Sderot and outlying communities. A young girl was lightly wounded by shrapnel in her leg and two others were treated for ringing in their ears after one Kassam struck the middle of a residential neighborhood in Sderot. "I don't think that this reality can continue for much longer," Ashkenazi said at a conference on Israel's future security challenges at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. The security cabinet, which discussed the situation in Gaza at a weekly meeting Wednesday scheduled well in advance of the recent flare-up, did not authorize a widespread incursion into the Strip, instead praising the IDF for the last few months of continuous pinpointed operations. The security cabinet endorsed a continuation of this strategy. Nevertheless, Ashkenazi said Israel was "drawing closer" to changing that reality with a major operation, but that all other options needed to be exhausted first. "We need to think about what will happen the day after [an operation] and until then to exhaust all possibilities," he said. "There is value to the strikes against Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but we are not succeeding in bringing the rocket fire down to zero and it could be that we will reach the point when we will need to launch a large-scale operation." When waging asymmetric warfare against a terrorist or guerrilla group, intelligence and firepower, Ashkenazi said, were not enough for victory. "We will eventually need to have control over territory operations-wise and intelligence-wise. We will not be able to win only by air strikes and ground fire," he said. At the cabinet meeting, IDF Military Intelligence and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) representatives briefed the ministers on the situation in Gaza, the IDF explained its current tactics, the army's Home Front Command gave a report on what was being done to protect the citizens in Sderot and nearby communities, and the Foreign Ministry provided an assessment of how the situation in Gaza was impacting on Israel's diplomatic standing. No operative decisions were made at the meeting, according to government sources. Since the beginning of 2007, some 970 Kassam rockets and 1,200 mortar shells have been fired from Gaza into Israel, according to statistics that were presented to the security cabinet. Three IDF soldiers and two civilians have been killed since the beginning of the year, either in action in Gaza or by Kassam rockets. Almost two dozen rockets were fired at Sderot and the western Negev Wednesday. The first 17 came in a two-hour barrage that began shortly before 7:30 a.m., with four rockets hitting open areas. Less than an hour later, the Kassam warning system identified eight rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, four of which were aimed at downtown Sderot. In that barrage, two women suffered from shock when a rocket struck close to them, but refused medical treatment. By 8:15, police had received reports of a total of 14 Kassams launched at Sderot, one of which caused minor damage to a vehicle. Magen David Adom director-general Eli Bin called to raise the alert status in the city to Level 3, the highest possible, and the status in the western Negev to Level 2. MDA doubled the number of ambulances in the city and the acting head of MDA's Southern District, Yehuda Shoshan, gathered commanders for a situation assessment in Sederot. In early afternoon, police also held a situation assessment during which it was decided to increase the police presence in the city, including bringing reinforcements from the Border Police, volunteers and traffic police. Shortly after the MDA situation assessment, three young girls were wounded by a strike, including the girl hit by shrapnel and two others treated for possible hearing loss. Two more were treated for shock. Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have managed to penetrate an IDF Merkava tank using a missile, and the army is now checking if double-headed anti-tank missiles have made their way to Gaza, Channel 10 reported Wednesday. Defense establishment officials reportedly said that arms smuggling into Gaza was continuing and that Hamas was continuing with its military buildup. The security cabinet also discussed the economic sanctions that Israel has placed on Gaza, and was told they had led to a decrease in Gazans' support for Hamas.